With the torch being recently passed by the Kennedy family to a new generation of politicians, it remains to be seen just exactly what impact all of this will actually have on how people vote in the twenty-four primaries and caucuses scheduled for Super Tuesday. But in keeping with the whole Camelot legend, style is again trumping substance. Since the Obama campaign and a substantial number of Democrats and Independents appear to be buying in to the “heir apparent” notion, it is certainly appropriate to look at the historical record.
The truth is that Barack Obama and John F. Kennedy are not only two different people from different times and places - they are actually quite dissimilar on most matters of philosophy and substance. Much of the talk about the connection between the two men involves the vague sense that Obama makes people feel something – like they have heard JFK did.
Hello politics of MEANING – that wonderful cultural phenomenon that has one vocabulary, but many dictionaries.
Let’s look at some of the vast differences between Barack and Jack. First, it’s important to be fair and say that there are at least a couple of areas where Obama is unlike Kennedy that are actually quite redeeming and compelling. For example, Barack Obama clearly has a commitment to his wife that is very much unlike JFK’s pattern of promiscuity and pathological adultery. Also, Barack takes his faith seriously. Jack didn’t. The Senator from Illinois has a solid track record as a member of his church. The President from Massachusetts was, for all practical purposes, involved with his church in name only (see my column from 12/27/07 for more about JFK and his faith).
In fact, most comparisons between the Barack Obama of today and the John F. Kennedy of the early 1960s will yield compelling evidence that Barack is, well, to sound sort of Bentson-esque, “…no Jack Kennedy.”
Jack Kennedy was a World War II war veteran and hero. He spoke on matters of defense and national security as one who had been there. That kind of life experience tends to be transformative and tempering. It also lends credibility to rhetoric.
Jack Kennedy served three terms in the House of Representatives and was elected twice to the Senate.
Jack Kennedy was a Cold Warrior. He was sufficiently hawkish when necessary and often worked aggressively behind the scenes (shall we say, covertly?) during the era when massive thermo-nuclear war was the terror du jour.